Thousands of people took to the streets of European cities Sunday to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with protesters in the English port of Bristol venting their anger at the country’s colonial history by toppling a statue of a 17th-century slave trader.
Demonstrators attached ropes to the statue of Edward Colston before pulling it down to cheers and roars of approval from the crowd.
Images on social media show protesters appearing to kneel on the statue’s neck, recalling the death of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25 that has sparked worldwide protests against racism and police violence.
Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck even after he pleaded for air while lying handcuffed on the ground. The statue met with a watery end as it was eventually rolled into the city’s harbour.
It wasn’t the only statute targeted on Sunday. In Brussels, protesters clambered onto the statue of former King Leopold II and chanted “reparations,” according to video posted on social media. The word “shame” was also graffitied on the monument, reference perhaps to the fact that Leopold is said to have reigned over the mass death of 10 million Congolese.
Protesters also defaced the statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in central London, crossing out his last name and spray painting “was a racist” underneath. They also taped a Black Lives Matter sign around its mid-section.
The day’s demonstration in London had begun around the U.S. Embassy, where thousands congregated — most it seemed wearing masks against the coronavirus — to protest Floyd’s brutal death and to shine a light on racial inequalities at home.
“Everyone knows that this represents more than just George Floyd, more than just America, but racism all around the world,” said Darcy Bourne, a London-based student.
The protests were mainly peaceful but for the second day running there were some scuffles near the offices of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Objects were thrown at police. Police have sent reinforcements and calm appears to have been restored.
Protesters also threw objects at police down the road outside the gates of Parliament, where officers without riot gear formed a line. They were reinforced by riot police who quickly ran toward the scene.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said violence was “simply not acceptable” and urged those protesting to do so lawfully while also maintaining social distancing by remaining two meters (6.5 feet) apart. But most demonstrators didn’t heed that call, particularly in front of the U.S. Embassy.
Police said 14 officers were injured Saturday during clashes with protesters in central London that followed a largely peaceful demonstration that had been attended by tens of thousands.
Hundreds of people also formed a densely packed crowd Sunday in a square in central Manchester, kneeling in silence as a mark of respect for George Floyd.
In Hong Kong, about 20 people staged a rally in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on Sunday outside the U.S. Consulate in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
“It’s a global issue,” said Quinland Anderson, a 28-year-old British citizen living in Hong Kong. “We have to remind ourselves despite all we see going on in the U.S. and in the other parts of the world, black lives do indeed matter.”
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in downtown Rio de Janeiro to protest against racism and police killings of black people on Sunday. The protesters weren’t just joining protests against Floyd’s death in the U.S., but also denouncing the killing of black people in Rio’s favelas.
The most recent case was João Pedro Pinto, 14, who was inside his house on May 18 in Sao Gonçalo, a city in Rio’s metropolitan area, when police chasing alleged drug traffickers shot into the house. The protesters on Sunday carried banners reading “Black mothers can’t stand crying anymore,” and shouted slogans against police and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Several dozen demonstrators took part in a Black Lives Matter protest held in Tel Aviv’s central Rabin Square. Many wore blue surgical masks but did not observe social distance guidelines.
A rally in Rome’s sprawling People’s Square was noisy but peaceful, with the majority of protesters wearing masks. Among those present was 26-year-old Ghanaian Abdul Nassir, who is studying for a master’s in business management at one of the Italian capital’s public universities.
“It’s quite unfortunate, you know, in this current 21st century that people of colour are being treated as if they are lepers,” Nassir said. He said he occasionally has felt racist attitudes, most notably when riding the subway.
“Maybe you’re finding a place to stand, and people just keep moving (away) and you’ll be, like, ‘What?’” Nassir said: “We’re strong people but sometimes everyone has a limit.”
At one point, the protesters, most of them young and some with children or siblings, took the knee and raised a fist in solidarity with those fighting racism and police brutality.
In Italy’s financial capital, Milan, a few thousand protesters gathered in a square outside the central train station Sunday afternoon. Many in the crowd were migrants or children of migrants of African origin.
In Spain, several thousand protesters gathered on the streets of Barcelona and at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid.
Many in Madrid carried homemade signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “Human rights for all” and “Silence is pro-racist.”
“We are not only doing this for our brother George Floyd,” said Thimbo Samb, a spokesman for the group that organized the events in Spain mainly through social media. “Here in Europe, in Spain, where we live, we work, we sleep and pay taxes, we also suffer racism.”
Frank Jordans reported from Berlin and John Leicester from Le Pecq, France. Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain; Katie Tam in Hong Kong; Frank Griffiths in London; and Daniel Cole in Marseille, France, contributed to this report.
Pan Pylas, Frank Jordans And John Leicester, The Associated Press